The God that American Teenagers Worship

Ray Van Neste:

Christian Smith has written a brief article condensing his research on the religious beliefs of American teenagers. It is well worth reading. He argues that the functional religious of American youth (which as he says they learned from the adults around them) is “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” This is the functional religion even though many identify themselves as Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, or Muslim. His assessment squares well with what I see going on around me.

The three terms in his description are important. This functional religion is “moralistic” because it centers not on redemption or being made right with God but on being a good person- as defined by ourselves. It is “therapeutic” because it centers on feeling good about yourself. It is “deism” because the God in view is removed, not calling us to account. (emphasis mine) As Smith points out this “religion” is not unique to younger people. They are simply reflecting what has been encouraged in our culture for some time.

Here are a few quotes:

“ ‘God is a spirit that grants you anything you want, but not anything bad’ . .
. . ‘God’s all around you, all the time. He believes in forgiving people and whatnot, and he’s there to guide us, for somebody to talk to and help us through our problems. Of course, he doesn’t talk back.’ This last statement is perhaps doubly telling. . . .[God] also does not offer any challenging comebacks to or arguments about our requests.” 50 (page 4 of the online .pdf)

“Thus, one sixteen-year-old white mainline Protestant boy from Texas complained with some sarcasm in his interview that, ‘Well, God is almighty, I guess [yawns]. But I think he’s on vacation right now because of all the crap that’s happening in the world, cause it wasn’t like this back when he was famous.’” 50 (page 4 of the online .pdf)

“Our religiously conventional adolescents seem to be merely absorbing and reflecting religiously what the adult world is routinely modeling for and inculcating in its youth.” 51(page 5 of the online .pdf)

“In short, our teen interview transcripts reveal clearly that the language that dominates U.S. adolescent interests and thinking about life—including religious and spiritual life—is primarily about personally feeling good and being happy.”
53 (page 7 of the online .pdf)

“. . . we have come with some confidence to believe that a significant part of ‘Christianity’ in the United States is actually only tenuously connected to the actual historical Christian tradition, but has rather substantially morphed into Christianity’s misbegotten step-cousin, Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” 56 (page 10 of the online .pdf)

Original Source: “Summary Interpretation: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” from Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers by Christian Smith with Melinda Lundquist Denton, copyright © 2005 by Oxford University Press, Inc.

My response? Those, who work especially with youth, understand that their view of God most likely has been transmitted down by their parents. So, it is not an easy task to fill what is lacking, but Christ is sufficient for these things:
1. Labor to show the ugliness of our sin nature from the view of a Holy God in Scripture. Sin is not those bad things I happen to do
occasionally. Sin is who I am. Beeline to Jesus as the source of deliverance from yourself.
2. Labor to show the end of all eternal things is being glad in God. Give them a thirst for Christian hedonism.
3. Labor to show them the character of the God we serve. Give them a passion for the majesty of God. Show them how their lives are overseen by the One with Whom we have to do.


Ever Wonder What Happened to the Peanut Characters when They Grew up?

From Mikey’s Funnies:


In honor of the late Charles Schultz

Most cartoon characters remain frozen in time. Though they’ve been around almost 50 years the members of the Peanuts gang are in some unspecified elementary school holding pattern. But what if they had been allowed to age like the rest of us?

Operates Good Grief Counseling Inc., which specializes in manic-depressives and people who are just having a bad day. Moonlights as a pitching coach at high school and college levels. Married to Marcie. They have a roundheaded son who wears glasses.

Developer of Security Blanket Software, which is a hot item on the New York Stock Exchange. Worth millions but is actively involved in charitable causes, including the Great Pumpkin 5K Fun Run every Halloween. Only man who makes Bill Gates nervous.

Serving her seventh term in Congress. Never married. Claims she hasn’t thought about Schroeder in years, but her ringtone is Beethoven.

After years on the classical performing circuit, he runs a piano bar in Carmel, Calif. Won’t let anybody lean on his piano.

Never quite got over being spurned by Linus. Has a cat named Sweet Baboo. Sells Mary Kay.

Women’s athletic director at a midwestern university. Her fashion credo: “Sandals go with everything.”

In dog years, he’ll be 350. What do you think would’ve happened to him? Linus has created an endowment at Daisy Hill Puppy farm in Snoopy’s memory.

Christian Narcissism

Certainly, our culture and man’s tendency is to self-worship. Romans 1 reminds us that when the God of the Word is not worshiped, some aspect of creation will be put in His place. Most of the time that part of creation that is replaced and worshiped is one’s self. And, surprisingly, even we who have been called out as worshipers in spirit and in truth of the one true God allow the narcissism of the day to seep into our Christian life. How do we do this? Here are a few insights into our tendency to be anthrocentric rather than theocentric. Tim Chester, writing in his book Total Church, quotes Chris Wright in The Mission of God when he writes:



-We ask, “Where does God fit into the story of my life?,” when the real question is “Where does my little life fit into this great story of God’s mission?”

-We want to be driven by a purpose that has been tailored just right for our own individual lives, when we should be seeing the purpose of all life, including our own, wrapped up in the great mission of God for the whole of creation.

-We talk about “applying the Bible to our lives.” What would it mean to apply our lives to the Bible instead, assuming the Bible to be the reality–the real story–to which we are called to conform ourselves?

-We wrestle with “making the gospel relevant to the world.” But in this story, God is about the business of transforming the world to fit the shape of the gospel.

-We argue about what can legitimately be included in the mission that God expects from the church, when we should ask what kind of church God wants for the whole range of his mission.

-I may wonder what kind of mission God has for me, when I should be asking what kind of me God wants for his mission.”

It’s very thought provoking when we see life from God’s perspective rather than ours. How do you think this reflects on Christianity today?